This post is essentially a follow up on this comment on a previous post:
Maybe if you told us what interests you in OSR stuff? You blogged about what it ISN’T, but what about what it IS?
I remember your old post about looking for a sturdy adventure game, but I’m a bit lost trying to understand how OSR reaches this. To my untrained eye Raggi is doing essentially lovecraftian stuff (“touch it and you die”) and the rest of the bunch print 70′s D&D in different colored boxes. This most likely isn’t the truth, but as said, I’m having problem seeing what makes OSR so “real”, “genuine” or “inventive”. Care to help me out? Maybe that would also help you find like-minded players.
I’ll start with one more ISN’T. The OSR isn’t just one specific thing, so it would be pointless for me to try and describe the whole of the OSR. Instead, I’ll take a stab at describing what specifically interests and appeals to me.
First off, simplicity of design. The games I play have extremely light rules, that cover only the bare minimum of instances that might come up during a game session. Instead of hard rules, there are guidelines and rulings. This design creates a framework for the referee, which in no way constrains creativity. Also, no game time is taken up by the necessity to look up this or that esoteric rule in a huge 300 page tome. Granted, the downside to this lightness is the reliance on the authority of the referee. Then again, this is really only a downside if you don’t trust the judgement of your referee, and don’t communicate with the people you play with.
Second, the freedom that stems not only from the looseness of the rules system but also from the assumed style of play and adventure design. The typical Old School adventure isn’t a series of encounters or scenes leading up to a pre-designed dramatic climax. Rather the story is what comes out of play, that is players interacting with the game world as presented by the referee. Again, there is a caveat. For this to work properly, the referee needs to prepare enough material beforehand to be prepared for any eventuality that might come up during play, or he needs to be able to improvise game content based on the material that’s already been established about the game world. Fortunately the OSR provides the referee with a lot of tools designed for these express purposes. The referee has a veritable buffet table of content to choose from, be it tables for anything from carousing to random happenings, or locations ready to be explored, or monsters, characters, magic items or anything else one can think of that can be dropped into any adventure on a moment’s notice. In a sense, this toolbox mentality even extends to the OSR adventures modules, which usually don’t have ready-made plots at all.
Third, the old school material does not force a designer’s intent on the individual referee in the way that many newer settings and adventures do. The OSR designer is not an auteur, who’s work is sacrosanct, and to be used as is. Exactly the opposite in fact. The Old School method of using material written by someone else is adapt it, change it more to your liking, mine it for ideas, and basically do with it what you want. I realize I’m repeating myself here, but really, the Adventure is what happens at the table, NOT what is written in a book. I think this is one of the main stumbling blocks for people more familiar with stricter by-the-book play (Who look at the OSR stuff and go all “this is lame, this guy has no motivation, and that guy doesn’t even have a PROPER NAME, and this whole thing ISN’T GOING ANYWHERE”.), or for the people who’re into Forge stuff, which is very focused and specifically designed for ONE type of gaming experience (Who look at the OSR stuff, and immediately start looking for definite how-to guidelines on HOW to actually run the game, or how the designer intended the material to be used. I’ll give you a clue: It really does not matter what the designer was thinking when he wrote what he wrote. What matters is what you make of the material at your own gaming table.).
That last point is really what drives the nail down. The OSR game is what happens at the table. It is what the referee makes of the material he is using, be it his own or someone else’s. It is what the players make of the material the referee presents them with. It is the interaction of all of the above in the situation that is a tabletop role-playing game session.
That’s it in a nutshell, really.